What is A2 milk?

Another choice appears in the dairy case

Created date

August 28th, 2017
Carton of A2 milk.

Carton of A2 milk.

Buying a carton of milk used to be a fairly easy task. Not anymore. The choices are seemingly endless: whole milk, reduced fat, fat free, lactose free, soy, almond, goat’s milk…the list goes on. For the most part, the choices are fairly self-explanatory. 

However, a recent addition to the dairy case may have you wondering—what in the world is A2 milk?

The story of A2

The vast majority of the milk Americans drink comes from Holstein cows. According to the Holstein Cattle Association, more than 94% of American dairy cows are of Holstein descent. Holsteins produce milk that contains two beta-casein proteins called A1 and A2. 

In other parts of the world, France, for example, milk comes from Jersey, Guernsey, and Normande cows. These cows produce only one beta-casein protein in their milk—the A2 variety. 

A growing body of evidence suggests that products made from cow’s milk are not well suited for humans. However, in his book Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk (Chelsea Green Publishing), Keith Woodford, professor of farm management and agribusiness at Lincoln University in New Zealand, suggests that the problem isn’t the milk but the protein in the milk. Specifically, the A1 protein. 

Woodford cites over one hundred studies linking the consumption of A1 cow’s milk to serious disorders such as heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia. He also delves into the preponderance of allergies, autoimmune disorders and lactose intolerance. His conclusion is that milk is fine for most people as long as it’s A2 milk. 

Where does A2 come from?

Scientists believe that a gene mutation occurred between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, as cattle were driven into Northern Europe. The A1 and/or A1 and A2 milk is the standard in the United States, Europe (excluding France), Australia, and New Zealand. A2 milk is more common in Asia, Africa, and France. 

There is some scientific speculation that the A2 protein is a fairly modern variation brought on through selective breeding practices, the use of bovine growth hormone, and antibiotics. There is scant evidence to support this theory, but Holsteins do tend to be much larger and produce more milk than A2-producing cows because they have been bred to optimize their milk output. 

The A2 advantage

Many Americans have given up milk due to digestive problems or lactose intolerance, but those issues tend to disappear when people drink A2 milk. That’s because the A2 protein is easier to digest. At the same time, the nutrients in A2 milk are better absorbed. 

The big brand name in A2 milk is fittingly called A2. It is sold nationally by Whole Foods and at markets catering to consumers of organic and natural products. A number of smaller, regional dairies also produce A2 milk with labels that typically tout their A2 status.  

The taste of A2 milk is no different from regular milk. It is hormone and antibiotic free and has been pasteurized, homogenized, and processed just like regular milk. It is available in whole, two percent reduced fat, fat free, and even chocolate varieties. From a health and nutrition standpoint, there is no downside to drinking A2 milk. 

The only issue is that it costs a bit more. While a half gallon of regular milk costs under $3, a half gallon of A2 milk runs between $4.25 and $5. 

What about France?

It’s interesting to note that while most European countries produce A1 milk, France produces A2. The reason is that cows and dairy products are responsible for a significant segment of the French economy. French dairy farmers must abide by strict guidelines to ensure the highest-quality milk.

French cows and the milk they produce have a lot riding on them. According to a French dairy trade association, France is the only country in the world to boast 1,200 different types of cheeses, butters, and creams, with approximately 70,000 dairy farms and 650 processing plants.

If you’ve even tasted a slice of authentic French camembert or eaten a flaky croissant made from genuine French butter, you’ve no doubt experienced the difference between American dairy and French dairy. Not only are French cows A2, their milk contains more fat than that of Holsteins. That’s why all that cheese, butter, and crème tastes so good. 

Which leads to this question…is it just a matter of time before you discover a new product in the dairy case? Surely, some enterprising businessperson is working on a plan to sell premium, French, super-fat milk to American consumers.